The pre-election spending limits for party advertising do not apply without a fixed voting day
OTTAWA – Canadian party leaders have been working their way across the country this week, which some see as a sure sign that the pandemic is about to end, but also as evidence that a federal election is imminent.
But is a primary campaign that looks like a primary campaign and smells like a primary campaign, given the fixed election date that is more than two years away, actually a primary campaign?
Not under Canada’s newest electoral law.
The 2018 Election Modernization Act would normally mean politicians can get happy to their hearts’ content – or elbows, in pandemic times – in the summer before an election. But they can only spend a limited amount of money on advertising. This law does not apply this year.
This is because Canada’s next federal election, according to the law on a fixed election date, will not take place until October 2023. But a minority parliament like this, in which the ruling liberals are outnumbered in the lower house of opposition MPs, can fall. Or a prime minister can go to Rideau Hall and ask for an earlier election.
Lori Turnbull, director of the department of public administration at Dalhousie University, said the electoral modernization act, which sets advertising restrictions on pre-election time, only applies to the summer months before a fixed election date, not to earlier elections.
This loophole could have an effect. Conservatives spent millions on advertising in May and June 2019, including during the costly NBA playoff airwaves when the Toronto Raptors made their historic run to win the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
The Conservatives said they made these purchases knowing they could spend money they couldn’t spend on advertising in July or August this year, as the elections were scheduled for October 21st.
But during the last Stanley Cup, hosted by the Montreal Canadiens that year, neither party made a move to spend publicity money to stand in front of this trapped audience. It appears that this time around they are saving their large expenses for the expected August election call because they can.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not fall for multiple attempts by reporters to get him to have an election imminent. The more than $ 6 billion he announced last week for light rail projects, childcare and climate protection? It’s all just “something we’ve talked about for a long time and we’ve been working on for a long time,” he said on Wednesday when asked if this was a pre-election tour.
Turnbull says there are no rules preventing leaders from advertising before a campaign, and she added that there probably shouldn’t be.
“It is clear to me now that we are preparing for an election and that is exactly what we would expect from campaign-like behavior and pre-campaign behavior,” said Turnbull. “I don’t think we can start banning prime ministers and political leaders who are political.”
She said it is ultimately up to party leaders to decide what is ethical and what voters consider acceptable behavior.
Trudeau’s four-province trip was the first domestic trip he has taken in months. His ministers were also out, sometimes with him, sometimes alone, with their own promises in tow.
Trudeau didn’t just hold press conferences. He met prime ministers and mayors and did some local photo ops. That included a Thursday afternoon visit to a White Spot restaurant in Coquitlam, BC, where he ordered cheeseburgers but bumped his elbows and posed for selfies with locals who weren’t expecting the Prime Minister to show up.
His spokesman said the trip was a government tour and did not include any Liberal Party events.
Trudeau’s opponents did not leave the field to him alone.
Conservative Erin O’Toole has been to Calgary for a number of official events and for some party fundraisers. The latter was covered by party funds, but the trip was overall “in his capacity as leader of the official opposition,” said his spokeswoman Chelsea Tucker.
She said O’Toole was meeting with stakeholders to hear their concerns, how they have been affected and to share his vision of securing the future for all Canadians in every region that flows through the parliamentary budget.
This weekend, O’Toole heads to what has long been a must-see for any July Canadian political leader – the Calgary Stampede.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is in the middle of a multi-day tour in British Columbia, first in the Vancouver area and then on Vancouver Island. He meets and greets his supporters, talks about affordable housing, and says that if Trudeau calls elections, it will only be a takeover to try to win back a majority rule.
Quebecois bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet spent the week touring the Côte-Nord area of Quebec, meeting with mayors and staging photo ops with MPs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 10, 2021.